This article is sponsored by Sentrics. In this Voices interview, Senior Housing News sits down with Sentrics EVP of Strategic Development Rick Taylor to learn which technology changes of 2020 he thinks will last into 2021 and beyond, how operators are using real-time location systems for contact tracing and why geofencing is becoming an invaluable tool during COVID-19.
You’ve worked in senior living for 25 years now. How has the industry changed?
Rick Taylor: This industry has changed so much in the last 25 years, yet it’s amazing to see how much changed in the last year alone. Because of COVID, communities all over the country updated their operations and technology to keep residents safe, while also rethinking their engagement strategies to connect with residents wherever they were. While we have seen minor changes all along the way, the industry took monumental strides in 2020 because it had no other choice. The long-term effect of those changes is the ability to provide better care and outcomes for the residents and staff within senior living.
It’s possible that technology in senior housing changed more last year than at any other time. What to you were the most significant lasting changes?
Taylor: From a technology aspect, the biggest change has been recognizing the role of technology as an underlying foundation of the business. Internet bandwidth also became extremely important, for the business and for the residents. The business has always had high bandwidth needs that required dedicated, secure lines. Now residents are doing so much more with the Internet. They’re using FaceTime, Zoom and other video services. They’re streaming. They’re using other devices inside their apartment. They’re tapping into the internet of things. They’re using telemedicine services and capturing their blood pressure, heartbeat and more through bluetooth-enabled technology that they can share with their physicians.
Communities are deploying technology inside apartments that require Wi-Fi as well. I also think the industry itself has finally looked within and recognized that while they’ve been buying technology for a long time, they haven’t been adopting it. 2020 was the year in which they finally started adopting technology and made it part of the daily operating fabric to not only streamline operational efficiencies, but family interactions and resident connections to the outside world.
One major foundational change of how we’re all living is the time spent at home, which impacts senior living in a few ways. What to you is the most significant home-related challenge in senior living that technology can address in 2021?
Taylor: That’s a pretty big question. In terms of the care inside the communities, I think everybody will agree that acuity has increased over the last decade. When I first got into this business, there was an age gap between independent living and assisted living. Today, they are the same age. The only difference is the level of care required.
This brings the need for the change from a residential model to a medical model. Because of COVID, residents spent much more of their time in greater isolation within the communities than ever before, meaning operators needed to find ways to keep them both engaged and safe. They had to create protocols to manage and report on COVID cases and exposures. They had to manage comorbidities when residents couldn’t visit their specialty physicians. They had to have eyes on the resident 24/7, but we all know that’s not possible.
That’s where technology can make a difference. It can monitor lots of things in lots of ways and give communities insights into resident needs 24/7 versus the average four to six hours a day staff see an assisted living resident. Technology provides 24 hours of data inputs, measuring declines of 1% versus the 10% decline that the human eye can detect. This is super helpful when you’re trying to recognize and respond to declines before they become events that need medical intervention.
Let’s talk about some of the specific technology changes in the industry. Why are communities moving toward new technologies, like real-time location systems, or RTLS?
Taylor: RTLS was a marketing thing when it first came out. It was cool to see where someone was, and impressive to family members. Yet following a bunch of blue dots on a screen is not very helpful. No assisted living community can afford to have somebody sitting at a desk all day following around a bunch of blue dots. It just doesn’t happen.
So how can you take that same technology and make it useful in senior living? Geofencing. When somebody has tested positive for an infectious disease, you can confine them to their apartment, and if they try to leave, you’ll know. Or, in a memory care setting, if you have a resident who wanders frequently into other people’s rooms, you get an alert.
Socialization is one of the main reasons people move their family members into assisted living. Safety is another, and nutrition. Those are normally the three big ones. Operators can now prove that someone is socializing more than when they first moved in. “When Barbara moved in, she spent 10 hours a day inside her apartment, and now she’s only spending seven hours inside her apartment.” RTLS can help you demonstrate that, which is super helpful in proving you are delivering on the promises you make to family members.
You mentioned geofencing — let’s dive a little bit more deeply into that. How are communities turning more to geofencing in 2021?
Taylor: Geofencing in 2021 has helped communities follow isolation protocols, because like we talked about earlier, you just don’t have eyes on a resident 24/7. For example, in my parents’ place, they have 34 units. Of those 34 units, they have seven couples. Well, good luck trying to keep track of all those people 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In that type of scenario, a geofence for isolation protocols could be super helpful — especially at night when staff is limited.
COVID-19 and other viruses will continue to disrupt senior living for the foreseeable future, even after the COVID vaccine is widely distributed. How does RTLS automate contact tracing?
Taylor: With RTLS, we know what rooms people are in. We know how long they are there. We know what other residents were in there at the same time. Well, that is the same information used in contract tracing. We know when and where people were at. Barbara tests positive for COVID. You put her name into the system and run a contact tracing report, and it will give you the names of everyone Barbara spent more than five minutes with over the past seven days, or whatever timeframe you define. The alternative is to interview people. Imagine how difficult it is to get a resident to remember who was in the same room they were seven days ago. This same protocol can be added for visitors as well.
Something that gets less press is case management. What are the most interesting ways that you see operators tackling that task?
Taylor: Understandably, neither contact tracing nor case management were on anyone’s radar when COVID hit. I’ve asked a lot of CEOs how they are tracking cases of COVID, and almost 100% of them conduct case management manually. Each community has its own spreadsheet and they document COVID cases every day. They use their own formulas to calculate totals from one day to the next and send their totals to corporate to tally across the organization. Or maybe they enter data daily into a shared spreadsheet that corporate rolls to calculate and report their infection rate across the organization.
Being able to do that in an automated way, so you get the full 360-degree view, is vital. Sentrics offers both contact tracing and case management to help communities track cases at the community level and the corporate level, including breakdowns by state, region, ownership group and level of care. Communities can see that each of their staff members are following the proper protocols with the residents. They’re able to help purchasing departments stay on track of PPE inventory, at the individual community, region or corporate level, versus getting all individual reports from each community.
Now, tracking information for three, five or seven communities might be manageable, but imagine doing that for 60, 100, 200, 300 or more communities. I can’t imagine the sleepless nights folks had on that. And most community leaders believe that stricter reporting is here to stay, and that COVID is the beginning, not the end, of the reporting.
2020 was a rough year, to say the least. What makes you hopeful about senior living and the industry in 2021?
Taylor: First, I am excited to have the focus back on the care staff in the communities. That has been really powerful and awesome.
Second, I am excited about the new focus on resident engagement at the individual level. Because communities couldn’t run activities like they used to, they had to create new ways of engaging residents where they were, which was in their apartments, rather than having them come together. This requires technology.
In 2020, we moved to more of a medical model. We’re not just about activities and engagement anymore. Now we’re about managing the mind, body and spirit and using technology to engage all aspects of the resident. We were also reminded that heroes work the front lines in this industry. I hope that never goes away — that everybody always realizes that someone else is putting themselves and their family members at risk to care for our loved ones, and that we need to do everything we can to make life easier for them. Technology plays a role in making their daily lives easier, so we should allow it in work lives as well.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Sentrics delivers a comprehensive suite of data-driven solutions that provide a 360-degree view of residents to help senior living communities transform their operations from reactive to proactive care. To find out how, visit Sentrics.net.
The Voices Series is a sponsored content program featuring leading executives discussing trends, topics and more — shaping their industry in a question-and-answer format. For more information on Voices, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.